Friday, April 4, 2008

Green Friday--Driven to distraction

As I sit down to write my first Green Friday post, as suggested by Margerie, I feel like a big fraud. I’m no expert on this stuff—who do I think I am, anyway?

But I know that I can use regular reminding of how to live in a more environmentally responsible way, and I bet that’s true for other people. Maybe you’ll read something here that you didn’t know and you’ll share ideas with me that I didn’t know. At the very least, these posts will make me accountable for my own behavior. I know that you can’t see me and wouldn’t have a clue if I threw away a whole ream of paper or started driving a Hummer, but I’ll behave better thinking that you’re keeping an eye on me.

While not old enough to have been official hippies, my husband and I have had the reputation of being hippie-ish, especially since we spent a ridiculous number of years in university, living in apartments with brick-and-board bookcases, wearing big wool sweaters from Guatemala, and carting around our own mugs long before it became the thing to do. Although global warming wasn’t in the news back then, we tried to live in an environmentally friendly way. Our lifestyle didn’t seem extreme to us or our friends, although I think it did to our families. We didn’t give up everything but granola or anything like that. It just made sense to try to have a smaller impact on the planet. Plus it was cheaper to live that way and we didn’t have a lot of money (see “we spent a ridiculous number of years in university” above).

One of the big changes in our lives since then is how much we drive. Before we had kids, we spent some years riding a motorcycle, some years driving various on-their-last-leg cars, and some years with no vehicle at all. Even when we had wheels, we often took the bus (motorcycle + BC weather = sitting in class in wet jeans = extreme discomfort) or walked. Although I got my license when I was 19 (just barely managing to pass the driving test), I didn’t actually start driving until I was 30 and pregnant and saw a woman trying to board the bus in the pouring rain with an unhappy baby, a stroller, an umbrella, a diaper bag and two bags of groceries.

Even after I started driving, I walked to the grocery store, the library, the fabric store, the park—many of the place I went to regularly. But then we moved to California and driving took on a new importance. Nothing, not even Child One’s school, was within walking distance of our subdivision.

Now, back in BC, our days include kids’ activities that we have to drive to. The library is not within easy walking distance (nor is the fabric store) and it’s not so easy to get the groceries without the car. My mom needs to be driven places she’s not confident getting to on her own. All of this means that my car could be my second home.

When the kids were small, we had to stick around at their activities in case of bathroom breaks or sudden I-hate-ballet/art/soccer tantrums. Now that they’re old enough to go to the bathroom on their own, we still stay, now in order to cut down on our driving. I might run an errand close by, go for a walk, hang out with mom-friends (and have conversations that don’t involve bathroom humor), or bring something to do while I’m waiting. I actually look forward to these breaks.

But until recently I was still spending a huge amount of time going here and there, doing this and that. Not only did this completely fragment my work day, but it involved a great deal of driving. Now I try to group my errands and get as many as possible done in one trip. This has drastically reduced my driving and saved me a ton of time and gas money.

It’s had other benefits too. One of the reasons I was always running around was because I work at home and my work can be mentally intense—sometimes I just need a break or a change of scenery. Now, instead of thinking, “Hey, I can go buy milk,” I work in the garden for a few minutes, go for a walk, knit a few rows, or even do the vacuuming (imagine that!). I get the break I need in a shorter time, and I spend that time doing some of the things I never seemed to have time to do before.

Another reason for my chicken-with-her-head-cut-off behavior is that when it occurs to me that, say, I need something at the store, that idea stays in the front of my mind, taunting me until I get it done. Paradoxically, this feeds right into my tendency to procrastinate. There I am, working on something boring or difficult and a thought pops into my head: “My washout fabric marker ran out last week. I need a new one, right now.” I try to ignore it, but it keeps coming back. So I leave the job I don’t really want to be doing anyway, telling myself that I have errands to run.

Now I say to myself, “Self, you know you don’t really need a new washout marker at 1:00 on a Tuesday afternoon. It can wait. You won’t even be able to use it until this never-ending job is done. This is just a ruse to get out of working.” And I sigh and get back to work. I keep a list in my purse of these needs and take care of them while I’m running other errands in the same area. I get more work done (well, when I'm not reading blogs) and save time. Sometimes I realize that I don’t really need or want whatever it was, so I save money, too.

But the biggest benefit—in addition to the environmental ones, of course—is that my days seem less urgent and I feel more in control. A little thought, a little planning, and I get things done in fewer trips and I don’t feel like I’m constantly rushing around.

This post turned out longer than I meant it to. Procrastinating through blogging seems to have replaced procrastinating through driving.


Margerie said...

Good food for thought. I wish I could walk anywhere. Our town is allergic to sidewalks, and cross-walks and bike lanes. I do have to drive the kids around a lot. I filled up today $70. Yikes!

But instead of driving to the gym, I hike around our neighborhood everyday. Lots of good hills. I only go to the grocery store 1x a week. We also shop at the local farmer's market. We are planting a vegetable garden this year. Will see how it goes. I use dryer balls in the dryer- cuts down on drying time and you don't have to use as many dryer sheets. I make trashless school lunches. We have refillable water bottles. I have been using canvas bags at the grocery store since 1994.

Things we need to work on: turning out the lights when not needed, unplug stuff when we go on vacation, recycle more, carpool more, run washer/dryer at night instead of during day, bring those canvas bags to Kmart, Target, etc..

I love your green friday post! It is good for all of us ;)

Hayley Townley, Breast Cancer Survivor Extraordinaire! said...

I had something witty to say until I read Margerie's "trashless lunches". I am sure this means she wraps it in foil and not seaweed that the kids can then eat at snack time, but it gives me food for thought. Trashless food for thought, actually.

Speaking of procrastination, really, I am going to go clean up the rest of my house (see email sent 2 minutes prior to this post), but then I noticed that you had posted something and had to read it first.

Uh-oh, you posted something else on your other site. And so did the 15 minute lunch guy. I will read those and then maybe go clean.